PS (3-21-07): This post has been revised by IraqSlogger*
Baghdad's Sectarian Hate Leaflets
Militants Reach Back in Islamic History for Epithets
Above is an image of an anti-Shi'a leaflet, distributed last week in the Yarmouk area of Baghdad.
The militant Sunni group apparently originating the leaflet refers to itself as Hussad al-Khawarij or the “Harvesters of the Khawarij.”
The leaflet was recovered and scanned by a Slogger source in the capital. It is, according to local sources, one example of a widespread type of literature: The sectarian hate flyer. It is also a piece of propaganda from what appears to be a Sunni-based group that has emerged relatively recently, Slogger sources say, and is apparently opposed to both Shi'a political power in Iraq and to the al-Qa'ida presence in Iraq.
Featuring a pejorative caricature of what appears to be a Shi'a individual, the leaflet begins: “The Sunni people between the two fires of the Safawiyoun and the Khawarij.”
The group presents itself as a defender of the Sunni community from both the Khawarij and the Safawiyoun. Both of these Arabic terms are references to political formations from Islamic and regional history. The term Safawiyoun, or Safavids, a term used by militant Sunnis in derogatory reference to the Iraqi Shi'a. The term Khawarij is employed here to refer to extremist Sunni groups, especially those affiliated with al-Qa'ida.
The Safavid Empire was a 16th-to-18th-century political formation based in present-day Iran and including parts of current-day Iraq (and other areas surrounding Persia). Although it included at times much of what is now Iraq, the empire is seen as part of Iranian political history, and outside of Arab political tradition. Most importantly, the empire was closely associated with the spread of Shi'a Islam at the hands of the state.
By referring to the Iraqi Shi'a as Safavids, sectarian Sunnis are able to imply that Iraqi Shi'a are at the same time agents of Iran, premodern in their orientation, and interested in forcing the rest of Iraq to embrace Shi'ism. This slur is used very derogatorily among sectarian Sunnis.
The group authoring the leaflet reaches even farther back in Islamic history to refer to another set of its enemies as the Khawarij. The Khawarij (Singular, Khariji In English, literally, “those who exit” or "those who secede," also known as "Kharijites" in some historical writing), were a group formed in the year 658, in the dispute over succession to leadership in the relatively early times of the Islamic political community. In the contest over community leadership between the supporters of 'Ali (the forbears of the Shi'a tradition), and the supporters of Mu'awiya, the Khawarij "seceded" from the group supporting 'Ali, essentially rejecting both men’s authority over the community.
The Khawarij in that time adopted radical methods to attempt to undermine the existing authorities in the Islamic community, including armed activities and assasssinations. The authorities responded in kind to the challenge. The label "Khawarij" is applied here by this militant Sunni group, Slogger sources say, to distinguish itself from the al-Qa'ida affiliated groups in Iraq, who have "seceded" from the Sunni community, presumably by committing the same offenses of which the Iraqi Shi'a are accused.
After the title, “The Sunni people between the two fires of the Safawiyoun and the Khawarij,” the flyer continues, listing alleged offenses of the Shi'a community against the Iraqi Sunnis, under the heading "Safawiyoun."
The list of allegations appears as follows:
1. Killing the scholars and symbols of the Sunni community. 2. Destruction of the economy of the Sunni community.
3. Destruction of the infrastructure of the Sunni community.
4. Burning mosques, and the forced migration of their leaders.
5. Cutting off the way in the development of the youth of the Sunni community in knowledge and studies.
6. Strewing corpses in the streets, torture, and decapitations.
Next each of these accusations, under the heading “Khawarij” the leaflet writes: “Likewise,” suggesting that the actions of the al-Qa'ida-affiliated Sunni militants are just as deleterious to the Sunni community of Iraq as the alleged actions of the Shi'a.
The leaflet closes: “However intense the trials, know that truth is appearing, and God is mighty.”
It is illegible in the scan, but Slogger sources relay that the group's emblem at the bottom says "If you see them , kill them."
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misrepresented the intent of the "Khawarij" moniker. We regret the error.